Professor Pal Ahluwalia, USP Vice-Chancellor & President and Honourable Rosy Akbar, Fiji’s Minister for Education, Heritage & Arts at the Regional ECEC in the Pasifika Talanoa Symposium at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi.
The Regional Early Childhood Education and Care in the Pasifika Talanoa Symposium jointly hosted by The University of the South Pacific (USP) and Monash University was opened by Honourable Rosy Akbar, Fiji’s Minister for Education, Heritage & Arts on 22 October 2019, at the Taboa International Hotel in Nadi.
In his welcome address, Professor Pal Ahluwalia, USP Vice-Chancellor & President especially acknowledged Hon Akbar for agreeing to officiate at the event. He also welcomed participants including staff from USP’s School of Education, the Monash University and the University of New England.
Professor Ahluwalia said the symposium builds on the 2017 UNICEF Conference “Moving Forward with SDGs for Early Childhood”, with a specific focus on the role of teacher education in helping to ensure the realisation of SDG 4 across the Pacific, in the context of early childhood education and care (ECEC).
He remarked that the symposium aims to create a shared understanding amongst Pacific countries on the key issues, challenges and priorities in early childhood education teacher training and development of a common vision for inclusive and quality early childhood education in the region.
Professor Ahluwalia said an expected outcome of the conference includes the strengthening of networks to develop better coordination and support strategies for ECEC teacher education providers with Ministries and NGOs.
In her keynote address, Hon Akbar said that kindergartens have been part of the informal education journey in Fiji since the 1930s when expatriate women operated kindergartens from their homes. This trend she said, was followed in the 1950s by many local women who had no formal training and experience of early childhood education, nonetheless, they ventured into educating the young minds.
Participants of the Regional ECEC in the Pasifika Talanoa Symposium at the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi.
The Hon Minister said that today ECEC is as important as any other education sector and given the topmost priority and funding by our Government.
“This year we are giving a subsidy of $2.8 million dollars towards the tuition fees of students enrolled in registered ECEC centres. An additional $300,000 has been given for construction of facilities and equipment,” Hon Akbar confirmed.
According to Hon Akbar, there are 875 kindergartens 19,102 students and 1,479 teachers under the Ministry of Education. All of these teachers now` paid by the Ministry are under a reviewed salary rate compared to the meager amount earned before.
“A total of $23.4 million dollars has been budgeted for the salaries of the ECEC teachers, reflecting the government’s strong commitment to early childhood education,” she added.
This she said, is a bold step taken by the Ministry to empower these teachers to upgrade their academic qualifications and seek further training, the trickle-down effect finally to be enjoyed by the children.
Hon Akbar stated that the teacher salary upgrades and grants for children in kindergartens has uplifted the standard and quality of early childhood education and care and children in recognised ECEC centres are provided free schooling and free transport where accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Hon Akbar reiterated that education is the cornerstone of our nation’s future and the Fijian government is pursuing all avenues possible to reduce financial burden on parents and to ensure that all Fijian children have access to quality education.
She mentioned that through this symposium, “we recognise the work of ECEC educators who will be deliberating and concurring on the theme: “Ensuring inclusive and quality early childhood care and education in the Pacific through teacher education reforms”.
The Pacific she said has come a long way in their commitment to ECEC and the ‘Pasifika Call to Action for Early Childhood Development’, the ‘PacREF 2018-2030’, the Pacific ECEC Quality Framework and the Teacher Competency Framework clearly demonstrate the commitment to, and increasing interest in the ECEC sector.
The symposium provides a forum for regional and international experts and practitioners in the field of ECEC and teacher education to come together and through the “Talanoa” platform, share experiences, best practices, issues and concerns.
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